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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary
Isaiah 57

 

 

Verses 1-21

CHAPTER XXIII

THE REKINDLING OF THE CIVIC CONSCIENCE

Isaiah 56:9-12;, Isaiah 57:1-21; Isaiah 58:1-14; Isaiah 59:1-21

IT was inevitable, as soon as their city was again fairly in sight, that there should re-awaken in the exiles the civic conscience; that recollections of those besetting sins of their public life, for which their city and their independence were destroyed, should throng back upon them; that in prospect of their again becoming responsible for the discharge of justice and other political duties, they should be reminded by the prophet of their national faults in these respects, and of God’s eternal laws concerning them. If we keep this in mind, we shall understand the presence in "Second Isaiah" of the group of prophecies at which we have now arrived, Isaiah 56:9-12;, Isaiah 57:1-21; Isaiah 58:1-14; Isaiah 59:1-21. Hitherto our prophet, in marked contrast to Isaiah himself, has said almost nothing of the social righteousness of his people. Israel’s righteousness, as we saw in our fourteenth chapter, has had the very different meaning for our prophet of her pardon and restoration to her rights. But in Isaiah 56:9-12;, Isaiah 57:1-21; Isaiah 58:1-14; Isaiah 59:1-21 we shall find the blame of civic wrong, and of other kinds of sin of which Israel could only have been guilty in her own land; we shall listen to exhortations to social justice and mercy like those we heard from Isaiah to his generation. Yet these are mingled with voices, and concluded with promises, which speak of the Return as imminent. Undoubtedly exilic elements reveal themselves. And the total impression is that some prophet of the late Exile, and probably the one whom we have been following, collected these reminiscences of his people’s sin in the days of their freedom, in order to remind them, before they went back again to political responsibility, why it was they were punished and how apt they were to go astray. Believing this to be the true solution of a somewhat difficult problem, we have ventured to gather this mixed group of prophecies under the title of the Rekindling of the Civic Conscience. They fall into three groups: first, Isaiah 56:9-12;, Isaiah 57:1-21; second, chapter 58; third, chapter 59. We shall see that, while there is no reason to doubt the exilic origin of the whole of the second, the first and third of these are mainly occupied with the description of a state of things that prevailed only before the Exile, but they contain also exilic observations and conclusions.

I. A CONSCIENCE BUT NO GOD

Isaiah 56:9-12;, Isaiah 57:1-21

This is one of the sections which almost decisively place the literary unity of "Second Isaiah" past possibility of belief. If Isaiah 56:1-8 flushes with the dawn of restoration, Isaiah 56:9-12;, Isaiah 57:1-21 is very dark with the coming of the night, which preceded that dawn. Almost none dispute that the greater part of this prophecy must have been composed before the people left Palestine for exile. The state of Israel, which it pictures, recalls the descriptions of Hosea, and of the eleventh chapter of Zechariah. God’s flock are still in charge of their own shepherds, [Isaiah 56:9-12] -a description inapplicable to Israel in exile. The shepherds are sleepy, greedy, sensual, drunkards, -victims to the curse against which Amos and Isaiah hurled their strongest woes. That sots like them should be spared while the righteous die unnoticed deaths [Isaiah 57:1] can only be explained by the approaching judgment. "No man considereth that the righteous is taken away from the Evil." The Evil cannot mean, as some have thought, persecution, -for while the righteous are to escape it and enter into peace, the wicked are spared for it. It must be a Divine judgment, -the Exile. But "he entereth peace, they rest in their beds, each one that hath walked straight before him,"-for the righteous there is the peace of death and the undisturbed tomb of his fathers. What an enviable fate when emigration, and dispersion through foreign lands, are the prospect of the nation! Israel shall find her pious dead when she returns! The verse recalls that summons in Isaiah 26:1-21, in which we heard the Mother Nation calling upon the dead she had left in Palestine to rise and increase her returned numbers.

Then the prophet indicts the nation for a religious and political unfaithfulness, which we know was their besetting sin in the days before they left the Holy Land. The scenery, in whose natural objects he describes them seeking their worship, is the scenery of Palestine, not of Mesopotamia, - terebinths and wadies, and clerts of the rocks, and smooth stones of the wadies. The unchaste and bloody sacrifices with which he charges them bear the appearance more of Canaanite than of Babylonian idolatry. The humiliating political suits which they paid-"thou wentest to the king with ointment, and didst increase thy perfumes, and didst send thine ambassadors afar off, and didst debase thyself even unto Sheol" (Isaiah 57:9)-could not be attributed to a captive people, but were the sort of degrading diplomacy that Israel earned from Ahaz. While the painful pursuit of strength (Isaiah 57:10), the shabby political cowardice (Isaiah 57:11), the fanatic sacrifice of manhood’s purity and childhood’s life (Isaiah 57:5), and especially the evil conscience which drove their blind hearts through such pain and passion in a sincere quest for righteousness (Isaiah 57:12), betray the age of idolatrous reaction from the great Puritan victory of 701, -a generation exaggerating all the old falsehood and fear, against which Isaiah had inveighed, with the new conscience of sin which his preaching had created. The dark streak of blood and lust that runs through the condemned idolatry, and the stern conscience which only deepens its darkness, are sufficient reasons for dating the prophecy after 700. The very phrases of Isaiah, which it contains, have tempted some to attribute it to himself. But it certainly does not date from such troubles as brought his old age to the grave. The evil, which it portends, is, as we have seen, no persecution of the righteous, but a Divine judgment upon the whole nation,- presumably the Exile. We may date it, therefore, some time after Isaiah’s death, but certainly-and this is the important point-before the Exile. This, then, is an unmistakably pre-exilic constituent of "Second Isaiah."

Another feature corroborates this prophecy’s original independence of its context. Its style is immediately and extremely rugged. The reader of the original feels the difference at once. It is the difference between travel on the level roads of Mesopotamia, with their unchanging horizons, and the jolting carriage of the stony paths of Higher Palestine, with their glimpses rapidly shifting from gorge to peak. But the remarkable thing is that the usual style of "Second Isaiah" is resumed before the end of the prophecy. One cannot always be sure of the exact verse at which such a literary change takes place. In this case some feel it as soon as the middle of Isaiah 57:11, with the words, "Have not I held My peace even of long time, and thou fearest Me not?" It is surely more sensible, however, after ver. 14, in which we are arrested in any case by an alteration of standpoint. In ver. 14 we are on in the Exile again-before Isaiah 57:14 I cannot recognise any exilic symptom-and the way of return is before us. "And one said,"-it is the repetition to the letter of the strange anonymous voice of Isaiah 40:6, -" and one said, Cast ye up, Cast ye up, open up," or "sweep open, a way, lift the stumbling block from the way of My people." And now the rhythm has certainly returned to the prevailing style of "Second Isaiah," and the temper is again that of promise and comfort.

These sudden shiftings of circumstance and of prospect are enough to show the thoughtful reader of Scripture how hard is the problem of the unity of "Second Isaiah." On which we make here no further remark, but pass at once to the more congenial task of studying the great prophecy, Isaiah 57:14-21, which rises one and simple from these fragments as does some homogeneous rock from the confusing debris of several geological epochs.

For let the date and original purpose of the fragments we have considered be what they may, this prophecy has been placed as their conclusion with at least some rational, not to say spiritual intention. As it suddenly issues here, it gathers up, in the usual habit of Scripture, God’s moral indictment of an evil generation, by a great manifesto of the Divine nature, and a sharp distinction of the characters and fate of men. Now, of what kind is the generation to whose indictment this prophecy comes as a conclusion? It is a generation which has lost its God, but kept its conscience. This sums up the national character which is sketched in Isaiah 57:3-13. These Israelites had lost Jehovah and His pure law. But the religion into which they fell back was not, therefore, easy or cold. On the contrary, it was very intense and very stern. The people put energy in it, and passion, and sacrifice that went to cruel lengths. Belief, too, in its practical results kept the people from fainting under the weariness in which its fanaticism reacted. "In the length of thy way thou wast wearied, yet thou didst not say, It is hopeless; life for thy hand"-that is, real, practical strength-"didst thou find: wherefore thou didst not break down."

And they practised their painful and passionate idolatry with a real conscience. They were seeking to work out righteousness for themselves (Isaiah 57:12 should be rendered: "I will expose your righteousness," the caricature of righteousness which you attempt). The most worldly statesman among them had his sincere ideal for Israel, and intended to enable her, in the possession of her land and holy mountain, to fulfil her destiny (Isaiah 57:13). The most gross idolater had a hunger and thirst after righteousness, and burnt his children or sacrificed his purity to satisfy the vague promptings of his unenlightened conscience.

It was indeed a generation which had kept its conscience, but lost its God; and what we have in Isaiah 57:15-21 is just the lost and forgotten God speaking of His Nature and His Will. They have been worshipping idols, creatures of their own fears and cruel passions. But He is the "high and lofty one"-two of the simplest adjectives in the language, yet sufficient to lift Him they describe above the distorting mists of human imagination. They thought of the Deity as sheer wrath and force, scarcely to be appeased by men even through the most bloody rites and passionate self-sacrifice. But He says, "The high and the holy I dwell in, yet with him also that is contrite and humble of spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones." The rest of the chapter is to the darkened consciences a plain statement of the moral character of God’s working. God always punishes sin, and yet the sinner is not abandoned. Though he go in his own way, God "watches his ways in order to heal him. I create the fruit of the lips," that is, "thanksgivings: Peace, peace, to him that is far off and him that is near, saith Jehovah, and I will heal him." But, as in chapter 48, and chapter 50, a warning comes last, and behind the clear, forward picture of the comforted and restored of Jehovah we see the weird background of gloomy, restless wickedness.

II. SOCIAL SERVICE AND THE SABBATH

(chapter 58)

Several critics (including Professor Cheyne) regard chapter 58 as post-exilic, because of its declarations against formal fasting and the neglect of social charity, which are akin to those of post-exilic prophets like Zechariah and Joel, and seem to imply that the people addressed are again independent and responsible for the conduct of their social duties. The question largely turns on the amount of social responsibility we conceive the Jews to have had during the Exile. Now we have seen that many of them enjoyed considerable freedom: they had their houses and households; they had their slaves; they traded and were possessed of wealth. They were, therefore, in a position to be chargeable with the duties to which chapter 58 calls them. The addresses of Ezekiel to his fellow-exiles have many features in common with chapter 58, although they do not mention fasting; and fasting itself was a characteristic habit of the exiles, in regard to which it is quite likely they should err just as is described in chapter 58. Moreover, there is a resemblance between this chapter’s comments upon the people’s enquiries of God (Isaiah 58:2) and Ezekiel’s reply when certain of the elders of Israel came to enquire of Jehovah. (Ezekiel 21:1-32, cf. Ezekiel 33:30 f.) And again Isaiah 58:11-12 are evidently addressed to people in prospect of return to their own land and restoration of their city. We accordingly date chapter 53 from the Exile. But we see no reason to put it as early as Ewald does, who assigns it to a younger contemporary of Ezekiel. There is no linguistic evidence that it is an insertion, or from another hand than that of our prophet. Surely there were room and occasion for it in those years which followed the actual deliverance of the Jews by Cyrus, but preceded the restoration of Jerusalem, -those years in which there were no longer political problems in the way of the people’s return for our prophet to discuss, and therefore their moral defects were all the more thrust upon his attention; and especially, when in the near prospect of their political independence, their social sins roused his apprehensions.

Those who have never heard an angry Oriental speak have no idea of what power of denunciation lies in the human throat. In the East, where a dry climate and large leisure bestow upon the voice a depth and suppleness prevented by our vulgar haste of life and teasing weather, men have elaborated their throat-letters to a number unknown in any Western alphabet; and upon the lowest notes they have put an edge, that comes up shrill and keen through the roar of the upper gutturals, till you feel their wrath cut as well as sweep you before it. In the Oriental throat, speech goes down deep enough to echo all the breadth of the inner man; while the possibility of expressing within so supple an organ nearly every tone of scorn or surprise preserves anger from that suspicion of spite or of exhaustion, which is conveyed by too liberal a use of the nasal or palatal letters. Hence in the Hebrew language "to call with the throat" means to call with vehemence, but with self-command; with passion, yet as a man; using every figure of satire, but earnestly; neither forgetting wrath for mere art’s sake, nor allowing wrath to escape the grip of the stronger muscles of the voice. It is "to lift the voice like a trumpet,"-an instrument, which, with whatever variety of music its upper notes may indulge our ears, never suffers its main tone of authority to drop, never slacks its imperative appeal to the wills of the hearers.

This is the style of the chapter before us, which opens with the words, "Call with the throat, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet." Perhaps no subject more readily provokes to satire and sneers than the subject of the chapter, -the union of formal religion and unlovely life. And yet in the chapter there is not a sneer from first to last. The speaker suppresses the temptation to use his nasal tones, and utters, not as the satirist, but as the prophet. For his purpose is not to sport with his people’s hypocrisy, but to sweep them out of it. Before he has done, his urgent speech, that has not lingered to sneer nor exhausted itself in screaming, passes forth to spend its unchecked impetus upon final promise and gospel. It is a wise lesson from a master preacher, and half of the fruitlessness of modern preaching is clue to the neglect of it. The pulpit tempts men to be either too bold or too timid about sin; either to whisper or to scold; to euphemise or to exaggerate; to be conventional or hysterical. But two things are necessary, the facts must be stated, and the whole manhood of the preacher, and not only his scorn or only his anger or only an official temper, brought to bear upon them. "Call with the throat, spare not, like a trumpet lift up thy voice, and publish to My people their transgression, and to the house of Jacob their sin."

The subject of the chapter is the habits of a religious people, -the earnestness and regularity of their religious performance contrasted with the neglect of their social relations. The second verse, "the descriptions in which are evidently drawn from life," tells us that "the people sought God daily, and had a zeal to know His ways, as a nation that had done righteousness,"-fulfilled the legal worship, -"and had not forsaken the of their God: they ask of Me laws of righteousness,"-that is, a legal worship, the performance of which might make them righteous, -"and in drawing near to God they take delight." They had, in fact, a great greed for ordinances and functions, -for the revival of such forms as they had been accustomed to of old. Like some poor prostrate rose, whose tendrils miss the props by which they were wont to rise to the sun, the religious conscience and affections of Israel, violently torn from their immemorial supports, lay limp and wind-swept on a bare land, and longed for God to raise some substitute for those altars of Zion by which, in the dear days of old, they had lifted themselves to the light of His face. In the absence of anything better, they turned to the chill and shadowed forms of the fasts they had instituted. But they did not thereby reach the face of God. "Wherefore have we fasted," say they, "and Thou hast not seen? we have humbled our souls, and Thou takest no notice?" The answer comes swiftly: Because your fasting is a mere form! "Lo, in the very day of your fast ye find a business to do, and all your workmen you overtask." So formal is your fasting that your ordinary eager, selfish, cruel life goes on beside it just the same. Nay, it is worse than usual, for your worthless, wearisome fast but puts a sharper edge upon your temper: "Lo, for strife and contention ye fast, to smite with the fist of tyranny." And it has no religious value: "Ye fast not" like "as" you are fasting "today so as to make your voice heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, -a day for a man to afflict himself? Is it to droop his head like a rush, and grovel on sackcloth and ashes? Is it this thou wilt call a fast and a day acceptable to Jehovah?" One of the great surprises of the human heart is that self-denial does not win merit or peace. But assuredly it does not, if love be not with it. Though I give my body to be burned and have not love, it profiteth me nothing. Self-denial without love is self-indulgence. "Is not this the fast that I choose? to loosen the bonds of tyranny, to shatter the joints of the yoke, to let the crushed go free, and that ye burst every yoke. Is it not to break to the hungry thy bread, and that thou bring home wandering poor? when thou seest one naked that thou cover him, and that from thine own flesh thou hide not thyself? Then shall break forth like the morning thy light, and thy health shall immediately spring. Yea, go before thee shall thy righteousness, the glory of Jehovah shall sweep thee on," literally, "gather thee up. Then thou shalt call, and Jehovah shall answer; thou shalt cry, and He shall say, Here am I If thou shalt put from thy midst the yoke, and the putting forth of the finger, and the speaking of naughtiness"-three degrees of the subtlety of selfishness, which when forced back from violent oppression will retreat to scorn and from open scorn to backbiting, -"and if thou draw out to the hungry thy soul,"-tear out what is dear to thee in order to fill his need, the strongest expression for self-denial which the Old Testament contains, -"and satisfy the soul that is afflicted, then shall uprise in the darkness thy light, and thy gloom shall be as the noonday. And guide thee shall Jehovah continually, and satisfy thy soul in droughts, and thy limbs make lissom; and thou shalt be like a garden well-watered, [Jeremiah 31:12] and like a spring of water whose waters fail not. And they that are of thee shall build the ancient ruins; the foundations of generation upon generation thou shalt raise up, and they shall be calling thee Repairer-of-the-Breach, Restorer-of-Paths-for-habitation." {Cf. Job 24:13} Thus their "righteousness" in the sense of external vindication and stability, which so prevails with our prophet, shall be due to their "righteousness" in that inward moral sense in which Amos and Isaiah use the word. And so concludes a passage which fills the earliest, if not the highest, place in the glorious succession of Scriptures of Practical Love, to which belong the sixty-first chapter of Isaiah, the twenty-fifth of Matthew and the thirteenth of First Corinthians. Its lesson is, -to go back to the figure of the draggled rose, -that no mere forms of religion, however divinely prescribed or conscientiously observed, can of themselves lift the distraught and trailing affections of man to the light and peace of Heaven; but that our fellow men, if we cling to them with love and with arms of help, are ever the strongest props by which we may rise to God; that character grows rich and life joyful, not by the performance of ordinances with the cold conscience of duty, but by acts of service with the warm heart of love.

And yet such a prophecy concludes with an exhortation to the observance of one religious form, and places the keeping of the Sabbath on a level with the practice of love. "If thou turn from the Sabbath thy foot," from "doing thine own business on My holy day; [Amos 8:5] and tallest the Sabbath Pleasure,"-the word is a strong one, "Delight, Delicacy, Luxury, -Holy of Jehovah, Honourable; and dost honour it so as not to do thine own ways, or find thine own business, or keep making talk: then thou shalt find thy pleasure," or "thy delight, in Jehovah,"-note the parallel of pleasure in the Sabbath and pleasure in Jehovah, -"and He shall cause thee to ride on the high places of the land, and make thee to feel upon the portion of Jacob thy father: yea, the mouth of Jehovah hath spoken."

Our prophet, then, while exalting the practical Service of Man at the expense of certain religious forms, equally exalts the observance of Sabbath; his scorn for their formalism changes when he comes to it into a strenuous enthusiasm of defence. This remarkable fact, which is strictly analogous to the appearance of the Fourth Commandment in a code otherwise consisting of purely moral and religious laws, is easily explained. Observe that our prophet bases his plea for Sabbath-keeping, and his assurance that it must lead to prosperity, not on its physical, moral, or social benefits, but simply upon its acknowledgment of God. Not only is the Sabbath to be honoured because it is the "Holy of Jehovah" and "Honourable," but "making it one’s pleasure" is equivalent to "finding one’s pleasure in Him." The parallel between these two phrases in Isaiah 58:13 and Isaiah 58:14 is evident, and means really this: Inasmuch as ye do it unto the Sabbath, ye do it unto Me. The prophet, then, enforces the Sabbath simply on account of its religious and Godward aspect. Now, let us remember the truth, which he so often enforces, that the Service of Man, however, ardently and widely pursued, can never lead or sum up our duty; that the Service of God has, logically and practically, a prior claim, for without it the Service of Man must suffer both in obligation and in resource. God must be our first resort-must have our first homage, affection, and obedience. But this cannot well take place without some amount of definite and regular and frequent devotion to Him. In the most spiritual religion there is an irreducible minimum of formal observance. Now, in that wholesale destruction of religious forms, which took place at the overthrow of Jerusalem, there was only one institution, which was not necessarily involved. The Sabbath did not fall with the Temple and the Altar: the Sabbath was independent of all locality; the Sabbath was possible even in exile. It was the one solemn, public, and frequently regular form in which the nation could turn to God, glorify Him, and enjoy Him. Perhaps, too, through the Babylonian fashion of solemnising the seventh day, our prophet realised again the primitive institution of the Sabbath, and was reminded that, since seven days is a regular part of the natural year, the Sabbath is, so to speak, sanctioned by the statutes of Creation.

An institution, which is so primitive, which is so independent of locality, which forms so natural a part of the course of time, but which, above all, has twice-in the Jewish Exile and in the passage of Judaism to Christianity-survived the abrogation and disappearance of all other forms of the religion with which it was connected, and has twice been affirmed by prophecy or practice to be an essential part of spiritual religion and the equal of social morality, -has amply proved its Divine origin and its indispensableness to man.

III. SOCIAL CRIMES

(Chapter 59)

Chapter 59 is, at first sight, the most difficult of all of "Second Isaiah" to assign to a date. For it evidently contains both pre-exilic and exilic elements. On the one hand, its charges of guilt imply that the people addressed by it are responsible for civic justice to a degree which could hardly be imputed to the Jews in Babylon. We saw that the Jews in the Exile had an amount of social freedom and domestic responsibility which amply accounts for the kind of sins they are charged with in chapter 58. But ver. 14 of chapter 59 (Isaiah 59:14) reproaches them with the collapse of justice in the very seat and public office of justice, of which it was not possible they could have been guilty except in their own land and in the days of their independence. On the other hand, the promises of deliverance in chapter 59 read very much as if they were exilic. "Judgment" and "righteousness" are employed in Isaiah 59:9 in their exilic sense, and God is pictured exactly as we have seen Him in other chapters of our prophet.

Are we then left with a mystery? On the contrary, the solution is clear. Israel is followed into exile by her old conscience. The charges of Isaiah and Ezekiel against Jerusalem, while Jerusalem was still a "civitas," ring in her memory. She repeats the very words. With truth she says that her present state, so vividly described in Isaiah 59:9-11, is due to sins of old, of which, though perhaps she can no longer commit them, she still feels the guilt. Conscience always crowds the years together; there is no difference of time in the eyes of God the Judge. And it was natural, as we have said already, that the nation should remember her besetting sins at this time; that her civic conscience should awake again, just as she was again about to become a civitas.

The whole of this chapter is simply the expansion and enforcement of the first two verses, that keep clanging like the clangour of a great high bell: "Behold, Jehovah’s hand is not shortened that it cannot save, neither is His ear heavy that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have been separators between you and your God, and your sins have hidden" His "face from you, that He will not hear." There is but one thing that comes between the human heart and the Real Presence and Infinite Power of God; and that one thing is Sin. The chapter labours to show how real God is. Its opening verses talk of "His Hand, His Ear, His Face." And the closing verses paint Him with the passions and the armour of a man, -a Hero in such solitude and with such forward force, that no imagination can fail to see the Vivid, Lonely Figure. "And He saw that there was no man, and He wondered that there was none to interpose; therefore His own right arm brought salvation unto Him, and His righteousness it upheld Him. And He put on righteousness like a breastplate and salvation" for "a helmet upon His head; and He put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and wrapped Himself in zeal like a robe." Do not let us suppose this is mere poetry. Conceive what inspires it, -the great truth that in the Infinite there is a heart to throb for men and a will to strike for them. This is what the writer desires to proclaim, and what we believe the Spirit of God moved his poor human lips to give their own shape to, -the simple truth that there is One, however hidden He may be to men’s eyes, who feels for men, who feels hotly for men, and whose will is quick and urgent to save them. Such a One tells His people that the only thing which prevents them from knowing how real His heart and will are-the only thing which prevents them from seeing His work in their midst-is their sin.

The roll of sins to which the prophet attributes the delay of the people’s deliverance is an awful one; and the man who reads it with conscience asleep might conclude that it was meant only for a period of extraordinary violence and bloodshed. Yet the chapter implies that society exists, and that at least the forms of civilisation are in force. Men sue one another before the usual courts. But none "sueth in righteousness or goeth to the law in truth. They trust in vanity and speak lies." All these charges might be true of a society as outwardly respectable as our own. Nor is the charge of bloodshed to be taken literally. The Old Testament has so great a regard for the spiritual nature of man, that to deny the individual his rights or to take away the peace of God from his heart, it calls the shedding of innocent blood. Isaiah reminds us of many kinds of this moral murder when he says, "your hands are full of blood: seek justice, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow." Ezekiel reminds us of others when he tells how God spake to him, that if he "warn not the wicked, and the same wicked shall die in his iniquity, his blood will I require at thy hand." And again a Psalm reminds us of the time "when the Lord maketh inquisition for blood, He forgetteth not the cry of the poor." [Isaiah 1:17;, Psalms 9:12] This is what the Bible calls murder and lays its burning words upon, -not such acts of bloody violence as now and then make all humanity thrill to discover that in the heart of civilisation there exist men with the passions of the ape and the tiger, but such oppression of the poor, such cowardice to rebuke evil, such negligence to restore the falling, such abuse of the characters of the young and innocent, such fraud and oppression of the weak, as often exist under the most respectable life, and employ the weapons of a Christian civilisation in order to fulfil themselves. We have need to take the bold, violent standards of the prophets and lay them to our own lives, -the prophets that call the man who sells his honesty for gain, "a harlot," and hold him "blood-guilty" who has wronged, tempted, or neglected his brother. Do not let us suppose that these crimson verses of the Bible may be passed over by us as not applicable to ourselves. They do not refer to murderers or maniacs: they refer to social crimes, to which we all are in perpetual temptation, and of which we all are more or less guilty, -the neglect of the weak, the exploitation of the poor for our own profit, the soiling of children’s minds, the multiplying of temptation in the way of God’s little ones, the malice that leads us to blast another’s character, or to impute to his action evil motives for which we have absolutely no grounds save the envy and sordidness of our own hearts. Do not let us fail to read all such verses in the clear light which John the Apostle throws on them when he says: "He that loveth not abideth in death. Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer."

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Isaiah 57:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/isaiah-57.html.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, September 23rd, 2019
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
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